Friday, December 13, 2019

How to Deal with Food Shamers

This post is an updated version of one that was previously published. I'm heading out tonight to a neighborhood holiday party and I needed a pep talk. You might too. And yes, I have a race in the morning.

'Tis the season for food shaming. The holidays are here, the parties are in abundance and so are the food choices. Be it at a social gathering or a work celebration, everyone is bringing their favorite fat-laden, calorically-dense offerings to share and we are all expected to indulge. Either that or face the music:

"You have to try my favorite bacon blue cheese dip!"

"Is that all you're having? No wonder you're so skinny!"

"You work out--you can eat as much as you want!"

"Oh, right, you're running in the morning."

Do you feel me? Why do people food shame others? And how do we respond without sounding defensive?



There is a myriad of reasons we might not want to indulge in the holiday food extravaganza. For many of us, it's due to health issues. Even before I was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis, I had irritable bowel syndrome for years and eating large amounts of heavy, greasy foods causes major gastrointestinal distress for me. I hate the idea of having to explain myself. I can only imagine the reaction if I said: "I'm sorry, but eating that will cause me to have gas and explosive diarrhea."

Maybe I should say that! Everyone might laugh, but I bet they'd stop pressuring me to eat that BLT dip...

I might sound dramatic, but I'm pretty sure if THAT happened, I'd wouldn't be invited back. Instead of sharing my reasons for skipping the buffet--it's really nobody's business--the food shaming comments started to bother me so much that I just stopped going to certain social gatherings. The pressure to overindulge was real. There's really nothing worse than being made the center of attention because I'm not gorging myself with foods that will make me hate life the next day. And yes, I did want to run in the morning--without needing to take a pit stop.


Food shaming still happens to me. Most often now, I experience food shaming at work. I work in a large office and it seems like there is always a birthday or a baby shower to celebrate, with potlucks and lots of desserts. Since I usually eat at my desk instead of the lunchroom, it's a little easier to avoid the comments. But I still hear comments about what I do and don't eat.

What's amazing to me is that I never hear anyone call out another person for eating half the bowl of artichoke dip or drinking 5 glasses of punch! Instead, we hear comments like "she's got a healthy appetite" or man, "she can put away the drinks!" It's as if overeating and drinking too much is a source of pride!

I'm not going to get into the psychology of why people food shame others. Abby Sharp did a fantastic job with that here. Instead, I'm going to share how I respond to people who feel the need to remark on my food choices.

The Clean Plate Club: My mother-in-law was always guilty of this, but I've heard it from others too: "You've barely eaten anything! Don't you like it?" I'll never forget the Christmas Eve when she made Turkey Tetrazzini. When I asked her what was in it, she replied (somewhat defiantly): "BUTTER. LOTS OF BUTTER." That night, my husband and I both laid in bed alternating moaning in pain and farting. It wasn't one of our finest marital memories. We still joke about it.

This is always a tough one. For many people, food is love and not stuffing yourself with their prized creation means rejection. People take their food very seriously and humor rarely works with this situation. Usually, I do a lot of insisting on how good it was and how full I am and oh, can I take some home? Except for the turkey tetrazzini. You can keep that shit.


No Wonder You're So Thin: How many times have you been at dinner and someone asks: "Aren't you going to finish that? No wonder you're so skinny! Eat up!" I always find it fascinating how people feel free to comment on slender people's body size. As a fit person, I don't find being called skinny a compliment. Imagine if the reverse were true: "Oh, should you be eating that? You're so fat!"

When I'm in this situation, I take the high road and try to avoid engaging in this conversation at all. Usually, I'll respond with a brief: "I'm good" and "How about those Bears? Don't they just suck?" Changing the subject is always a good tactic. Making excuses just encourages the food shamer to shame you more.


You're So Healthy: As if that's something to be ashamed about! Back in the day, my husband and I socialized with friends who loved to drink lots of beer and eat all the appetizers--potato skins, sausage platter, the bloomin' onion--you know what I'm talking about. Comments that I'm not gorging myself because I'm "so healthy" or because I'm "running in the morning" put me on the defense. I usually respond with: "onions don't like me" or something similar, followed by a little chuckle. If that doesn't work, well, I'll go into details... and yes, here we go again with the gastric distress and farting.

Don't make me go there.


"Look at that healthy meal": I almost always bring my lunch to work. We all know that it's much healthier to eat food brought from home. Yet the comments come. I don't defend myself but I will respond with how much I'm enjoying the meal I made. I'll even offer to share the recipe. I usually eat at my desk and that keeps the haters away.


You're eating THAT?: I'm no food saint. I like to indulge on occasion--if someone brings Portillo's chocolate cake to work, I'll have a slice. If we're out to eat, I've been known to order french fries. I love a hot dog at the ballpark. The food shamers just love to call me out on unhealthy choices. My response? "It's so good, isn't it?"


I wish people would stop judging others for their food choices. I find it so ironic that people who make healthy choices get shamed for those choices. If you're being shamed, remind yourself that you're not the guilty one. Most people who food shame others usually have their own issues with food. The best way to respond to food shamers is with lightness and humor. Avoid justifying your choices. Don't get defensive or angry. Change the subject.

Of course, you can always talk about politics...

'Tis the season of food shaming...falalala /via @oldrunningmom #running #runchat #foodshaming #holidaysweat

Have you had to deal with food shaming? How would you respond to any of these situations?

I'm linking with Fridays with Fairytales and Fitness.

69 comments :

  1. I'm going to consider myself lucky because all I've ever gotten was total reverence. People are like "she's an athlete". End of story. My BIL on the other hand will food shame my Paleo husband non-stop. "Are you going to eat that?" "Do you know how that was processed?" Then he sits there eating giant bowls of pasta telling us about his high blood pressure and fatty liver.

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    1. You are so lucky! I guess it depends on the crowd, but people who don't run always feel the need to comment on what I'm eating. I don't like being the center of attention and it makes me so uncomfortable. I also don't like having to defend my food choices! What does your husband do?

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  2. I remember one time I was at a party with some friends. One of the friends is also a marathon runner. We were planning a long run the next day and didn't want to overindulge. We got some snide comments about "Skinny little runner girls", but at least I had an ally there so I didn't have to deal with the food shaming by myself!

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    1. I just don't understand the hating on people who want to be healthy.

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  3. Fortunately uve never experienced food shaming but then again I am one that often makes unhealthy choices and then regrets it later but I'm hoping to change my ways! -M

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    1. Yeah, after one too many times of regrets, I'm finally learning my lesson!

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  4. "Most people who food shame others usually have their own issues with food." Bingo.
    As someone who was grossly overweight and struggled mightily for many years to become healthy, this post made me shiver with bad memories...from both sides of the story.
    I would never, ever comment about what one is eating. Your attitude is commendable.

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    1. Nor would I comment on someone's body size. Yesterday, I was talking about this post with my oldest son and he gets skinny shamed a lot! I had no idea it happened to boys.

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  5. "You can always talk about politics" - lol!!

    You say you "had" IBS like it's in the past...do you have a magic bullet solution you're willing to share? Some of us are still suffering and running out of things to try...much appreciated!

    And yes - I have a holiday lunch at work on Monday that I'm absolutely dreading bc my veganism is always brought up/discussed/mocked/analyzed/pointed out as being weird.

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    1. Oh, I still have IBS but it is definitely controlled by diet. No magic bullet solution, sadly, and I've tried everything. I think some of my symptoms are related to RA--when I flare, my IBS acts up too. When I'm on the steroids, things are quiet.

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  6. This is something that I have struggled with my entire life! I have made huge strides dealing w it but this time of the year it's really hard.

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    1. That was why I wrote the post now. The holidays seem to bring out the food shamers like crazy!

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  7. Well no one accuses me of being skinny, that's for sure. But I don't like sweets and I do sometimes get snide comments about that. I just shrug it of...then delve into my 20 oz. steak!

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  8. Well this is fitting - just to add - my friend just posted on FB: "You will never be criticized by someone who is doing more than you. You will only be criticized by someone doing less". Yep!

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  9. Wow, so good to hear I’m not the only one who hears this stuff ALL THE TIME. “ Oh, well you run, so you can eat whatever you want””. I always want to say “Well then maybe you should run too”
    And no, I don’t eat whatever I want, because I choose to eat healthy (most of the time, I am still human).
    Thanks for the post!

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    1. See, that's the thing! Yes, I do eat what I want, but what I want is healthy.

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  10. I have bad issues with all this as I have a weird diet due to controlling my cholesterol through eating low saturated fat. But I still eat sugar and carbs - it's just that happens to work in my particular case. And yes, if I eat fat, GI discomfort and all that means. Some people just do not understand and think I'm on a perpetual diet: "Go on, treat yourself". Um, to bloating, wind and pain? Yay! "Oh you ARE good" is so often said with a sneer, isn't it. I would love that chocolate cake, pie, etc, I really would, but ...

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  11. I guess because I love food and will eat whatever I want (in moderation) that I just zone out any food shamers. Maybe that's a good talent that I have? LoL

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  12. Ugh so so true! I don't deal with them much but I used to get very mad when people would comment on my food. I know that it's more of a reflection of their relationship with food and not my own.

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  13. Are you kidding? Of course I've dealt with food shamers! Thankfully I don't have GI issues, but as you know, keeping at a healthy weight is always a struggle for me. And of course part of the issues were created by my parents, labeling foods good & bad & telling me my face would be so pretty if I just lost some weight . . . sigh.

    People would never press drinks on an alcoholic but don't think twice about pushing food.

    Ok, moving on ...

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    1. People have all kinds of issues with food. I see it all the time in my clinic--and I see kids! It starts early.

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  14. I don't hang around with a huge crowd, but I haven't experienced food shaming (either direction) in a long time, thankfully. I suspect I'm at the age where if it happened I'd dump whatever I'm eating over the shamer's head.

    Or at least I'd do it in my mind...

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  15. Interesting, I would call that "food shaming" because it doesn't seem like those comments are trying to make someone feel "ashamed." It just strikes me as boorish commenting on something that's not your business.

    I feel like food shaming, comments that are actually intended to make someone feel ashamed of what they're eating are more alone the lines of "Should you be eating that?" "Whoah, a THIRD slice of pie, ok..." "Didn't you already have a cookie?" Like, it's the holidays, people want to live a little, and other people feel the need to shame them for it.

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    1. I don't see the difference--I think calling anyone out for their food choices is shaming. LIke you said, it's nobody's business!

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  16. My mom and I were talking about this topic this past weekend. My parents and I don't like pumpkin pie, and yet you can't escape it during October and November. We don't like the texture, and that's our choice. Whenever we say we don't like pumpkin pie, we get all the questions and I don't want to explain myself.

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    1. I feel you on this! I don't like pumpkin pie either and you'd think I was committing a cardinal sin by saying no to it!

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  17. I agree with your assessment- respond with lightness and humor. I don't really get food shamed a lot. The last time I felt pressured to eat something was at a friend's party where she had these special cookies made to share with everyone. I knew it meant a lot to her for me to try a cookie so I did it. I didn't want one but I ate it because she like HAD ME IN MIND when he got the cookies. (In a nice way, she knows I do love sugar cookies!) I myself only comment on people's food with something like "ooh that looks yummy!" It could be junky or healthy... if it looks yummy, I'll say so!

    Once in awhile, if someone catches me off guard (usually a man) about a food or body comment I respond that I suffered with disordered eating for years. Usually that is TMI for them and they are embarrassed and change the subject!

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  18. Yes! What is it about food pushers? I struggle with food, and I know I have to keep myself in check. But yes, I do indulge now and again with parties or events.
    I'm also a vegan, so I get the whole, oh you mean you don't eat this or that? Wow, you must miss it. I have gotten pretty good at shrugging it off thankfully.

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    1. Hence the "I get gas and explosive diarrhea comment"! I haven't had to resort to extremes but it's definitely one way to push back!

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  19. I get this from my sister ALL the time. Not necessarily because I'm eating more healthy foods, but I definitely eat less. I got in the habit, years ago, to cut my portions in half (if I'm in a restaurant, where the portions are gigantic), and then take the uneaten food home and have it for lunch the next day. Never fails, as soon as our food arrives..."aren't you gonna ask for a to-go box?" (Cue the eye-roll) I realize it's HER issue and not mine, but still.

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    1. That's just rude! Maybe you should ask her if she wants to clean your plate? ;p

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  20. Great post! I need to remember the humor as a reply. I am finding I either get annoyed when they come back three times insisting that I eat it, or give in. Then I’m mad at myself for giving in or for feeling so uncomfortable about refusing.

    With a baby shower at lunchtime and a Christmas party tonight, I’m going to be thinking of your strategies today!!

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    1. It's truly amazing how people try to sabotage others' healthy habits just to make themselves feel good!

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  21. I hope everything goes well to you in this year.
    As you know, Christmas is comming soon, you’ve already decorated for Christimas, right ? I also love Christmas.
    This year I’m going to put small a tree for Christmas in my room.

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  22. Such a great post. WHY Do people feel the need to comment on what other people eat?

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  23. The food shaming doesn't bother me so much as the alcohol. I prefer not to drink, but I don't care what you're drinking so why does what's in my glass bother you so much? I actually took to saying it was vodka soda recently to shut some folks up

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    1. The alcohol shaming is right up their with the food shaming. I do drink--I'll have 2 glasses of wine--and yet I've gotten pressured to drink more.

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  24. I'm a bit late commenting on this but I think food shaming is a year-round thing. So, if you eat the way you want to eat, someone is unhappy. If you're thin and a runner, you're scoffed at for passing by food. If you're overweight, you're criticized for eating at all. We're a very critical society, that's for sure and it's hard to ignore it.

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  25. I'm sorry this continues to be a hot button topic for you. If everyone kept their judgement to themselves we'd all be better off. Jillian is in the process of youth orchestra auditions so I've been watching my share of auditions. One brilliantly talented young girl was ripped apart for "moving so much" when she played. When she explained that she was in the process of losing her eyesight and only had 10% of her vision left, there was stunned silence. When will people learn??

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  26. I think so many people have their own issues w food and that' is how they deal with their own anxiety. Recently, at a party someone said to me, oh you are just eating salad is that what all the runners eat? I almost burst out crying bc I am not really "running" right now and then I felt all self conscious about my eating again. Oy! This time of the year can be challenging

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    1. It was interesting last night because everyone is having their struggles with weight and there weren't a lot of snackers. In fact, a lot of women were drinking water!

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  27. Yup, to you eat so healthy OR you're eating THAT, LOL! What we eat is nobody's business but our own. Although I must admit Mr. Judy & I have a lot of "discussions" about his choices. I point out to him that I'd like to spend the rest of my life with him -- healthy. Just look at my parents, honey, and how unhappy they are. I know first hand it's got to come from within, but it's still just hard.

    Most of the time I do bite my tongue. Often he actually asks for advice. If you don't want to hear what I have to say, don't ask!

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    1. It's funny how people assume that I can just eat whatever I want! But they don't want to do what I do to stay fit.

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  28. I've never encountered food shaming. I didn't even know it was a thing. But it doesn't surprise me. We would all be better of if more people refrained from verbalizing their thoughtless and misguided opinions.

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  29. I HAVE heard most of those comments directed at me. I usually employ your strategy: change the topic. It's really no one's business what I eat. We were at a party a week ago with a running friend and someone directed a comment about "skinny little runner girls" our way. Argh!

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    1. I'm happy to report that I got none of that at my party last night!

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  30. I am a picky eater and somehow people around me have gotten used to the idea that I will not eat a bucket of bacon blue cheese dip. I am lucky that my family usually go out of their way to please my "weird" preferences (salad! veggies!). So I guess I shouldn't complain! :-)

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    1. I'm always the one who gets asked to bring the salad! So I think people who know me are starting to get it.

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  31. I was just at a Christmas party when a friend was chatting about her new fitness obsession, she looks great and feels great and I am so happy for her, but as we were talking she said how she remembers once or twice when we were out for lunch and she thought, "bitch, she eats what ever she wants!"
    I was kind of hurt she felt that way and I had no idea. And now I wonder who else feels that way. I guess it's more their problem than mine.

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  32. I don't really get a lot of food shaming comments from my family (luckily) but I do sometimes get the "you can eat whatever you want you work out," or the "oh you're not drinking because you have to run in the morning," to which I'll normally respond..."why don't you drink a whole bottle of wine and go run in the morning and tell me how you feel?" That usually shuts them up lol. None of my family runs or works out regularly. My dad did tell me at Thanksgiving when I came in and got excited about the meats and cheeses spread, "you only love me when I give you money or food." But I ignored that comment ;-)

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  33. My comment from last year is still true. Ended up lying about my seltzer at the holiday party last week to shut people up.
    Luckily food shamers aren't too bad in my office - it's mostly commiserating at too many vendor gifts and a giant cake

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    1. This year was much better for me. I think people are starting to get it?!

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    2. Yay. MYOB is always a good lesson

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